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Unhinged (1982)

Director: Don Gronquist
Starring: Laurel Munson, Janet Penner, Sara Ansley, Barbara Lusch
Unrated Running time: 79 minutes
Released by Brentwood/BCI

In a way, getting added to the "video nasty" list was probably the best thing that could have happened to Don Gronquist's 1982 slasher, Unhinged. When the British Board of Film Classification decided that Unhinged -- along with 74 other films -- was simply too offensive for the doe-eyed people of the UK to view, all copies of the film were pulled from shelves; prohibited by law from being rented or sold. Though they probably didn't mean to, the BBFC gave the ultra-cheap, Oregon-lensed shocker something that money couldn't buy, infamy. Now, over a quarter of a century later, Unhinged is still being discussed all because of the notorious reputation given to it by the prudes at the BBFC -- a reputation that the film doesn't really deserve.

Three college girls are on their way to a rock concert when they get lost and end up wrecking their car. They seek refuge in an old mansion inhabited by a mother and daughter who seem to have a very bizarre relationship. As per the formula, it's difficult to leave the house, as the phone doesn't work, their car is undriveable, and there isn't another neighbor for miles. In fact, it seems that Marion Penrose (Janet Penner) and her mean old mother don't want the girls to leave. A bad situation is made even worse when it appears that someone is stalking the property, who may or may not be the killer who has murdered dozens of girls in the area. The girls start getting bumped off, until only one is left to discover the Penrose family secret -- and it's a doozy.

Unoriginality aside, the biggest problem here is the apparent lack of enthusiasm on either side of the camera. The acting is generally terrible -- unlikely dialogue is delivered in a half-assed manner reminiscent of a porn feature. A few interesting ideas are presented (the twisted relationship between the domineering mother and her spinster daughter, the psychosexual motivations of the killer), but director Gronquist seems more interested in following the tried and true slasher formula than in allowing these themes to develop. Unhinged does have its moments, however. Gronquist seems to have a flair for filming kill scenes (though they are few and far between) and has no problems with throwing a little gratuitous T&A into the mix. Gronquist also makes the most of the film's setting -- and isolated mansion in deep in the Oregon forests -- helping to add an appropriately dreary atmosphere to the proceedings. Just try to ignore the animated lightning storms that seem to occur every night. The film's grand finale features its most gruesome set piece, and blindsides viewers with an effective twist ending that almost elevates Unhinged from generic slasher to minor classic.


I also must mention the movie's score -- an "only in the 80's" synth-driven blend of electronic noise and classical motifs that enhances the film's trashy vibe. Unhinged is too uneven to rate as much more than an occasionally interesting regional flick that is crippled by its "video nasty" reputation. Slasher fans will likely hate the film for not living up to the hype. Too bad, because Unhinged is certainly not as terrible as many critics have claimed.

Brentwood has done a good job of presenting Unhinged on DVD, which is surprising considering the company's fast-and-cheap sensibilities. The film looks and sounds about as good as it ever has, and features gory cover art which, in true exploitation fashion, boldly proclaims that Unhinged "outsold Poltergeist before banned." Extras include a clip from an Oregon talk show where actress Penner and a very nervous Gronquist discuss the movie's production. The other feature could be the worst commentary track ever recorded. Purported to be a "comedy commentary", it's a feature length idiot fest featuring a group called "The Detractors" -- a group of movie critics and writers who have no connection to the film whatsoever. They offer no insight into the film or its making, and none of them seem to have an appreciation for low budget horror. The entire track consists of lame jokes and mindless chatter that approximates the experience of watching Unhinged in a frat house. I can only hope this was a ploy on the part of Brentwood to offer a commentary track so awful that it makes the actual film seem like a masterpiece. Otherwise, it's tremendously disrespectful. Unhinged may not be a lost classic, but it certainly deserves better than that.